Imagine if I told you to make boxty. Unless you’re Irish, you’d have no idea what that meant. You wouldn’t know which ingredients to buy or which steps to follow. Even if I gave you a shopping list and a set of instructions, how would you tell whether you’d succeeded? It would be silly to try to make boxty without first having an idea what good boxty should look like. And that’s why if you want to write better stories, you should read more.
When you read a story in a book, it’s usually been edited by a few people after having been written by an author who’s very good at their job. That means you can learn a lot from it. You’ll get to know the shape, structure and language that make for good writing, and you’ll become familiar with different genres and what to expect from them.
You can learn just as much from stories you didn’t enjoy reading. Was the topic boring, were the characters annoying, was the writing style over the top? By thinking carefully about the things you like and don’t like in other authors’ work, you can come up with a ‘do/don’t’ list to follow when writing your own stories.
Something else worth remembering is to write the kind of stories you enjoy reading. You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself! It really shows when you had fun writing something, so it’s worth picking something you care about. If you don’t get a choice over the topic, don’t just motor through it until you’ve met the word count. Instead, you should challenge yourself to make it interesting to you – and, by extension, to the reader!
Remember that the ‘rules’ for writing stories are very helpful when you’re starting out. Picasso excelled at traditional painting before he broke away from it. Many famous authors have gone against the sort of advice you hear in school – James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake overturns nearly every single convention your English teacher taught you. But leaving out speech marks by accident is different to doing it on purpose! You need to make good decisions on when to break the rules, and you can’t do that without knowing them inside out first.
Finally, leave time to edit! You’ll always spot an awkward phrasing or a misplaced apostrophe if you come back to your writing later. Even better, ask someone else to look at your story – and offer to look at theirs in return. Feedback from your peers is one of the best ways to grow as a writer, and you’ll often get ideas for how to improve your own work from seeing someone else’s.
I Can Read Viet Nam,